Under previous rules, it was not possible to switch from ICT to Tier 2 General without triggering the cooling-off period. The cooling-off requirement no longer applies for ICT switchers under the UK’s points-based immigration rules.
This means Tier 2 intra-company transferees currently working at a UK branch or subsidiary of an overseas employer can change to the Skilled Worker route without having to leave the UK to apply from overseas.
Switchers will be required to show they meet the Skilled Worker visa, which includes meeting the minimum points threshold and other grounds for further leave to remain under the Immigration Rules.
Meeting these requirements should in most cases be straightforward for ICT visa holders, since they have previously been approved for a visa by the Home Office and since the ICT visa requirements are in many cases more stringent than those of the Skilled Worker route.
Below we look at the eligibility criteria and application process for switching from Tier 2 ICT to a Skilled Worker visa.
Why switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa?
The Skilled Worker visa offers many additional benefits for sponsored workers over the ICT visa.
The grant of a Skilled Worker visa allows the worker (and qualifying dependants) to stay in the UK for up to 5 years.
Unlike the Tier 2 (ICT) route, it will also provide a route to UK settlement. A migrant who has held permission under the Skilled Worker route for a qualifying period of 5 years can apply for indefinite leave to remain, although time spent on a Tier 2 (ICT) visa will not count towards the 5-year residence requirement. If the application is successful, the sponsored worker will be permitted to remain in the UK on an indefinite basis.
The new Skilled Worker visa is designed for workers working in the UK in a specific skilled job role. This new route came into force on 1 December 2020, replacing the old Tier 2 (General) work visa, and forms part of the overhaul of the UK’s immigration system in line with freedom of movement coming to an end between the UK and the EU.
The Skilled Worker route is open to sponsored workers coming to work in the UK from overseas (both from within and outside the EU), or for those already working in the UK under a qualifying route, such as the Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) route. There is no cap on the number of migrants who can apply for a Skilled Worker visa, although applicants must have a confirmed job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a UK licensed sponsor.
For existing Tier 2 (General) sponsors, their licenses will be automatically adjusted to include sponsoring migrant workers under the new Skilled Worker route, with an expiry date consistent with their current licence. All other employers will need to apply for a new sponsor licence before they can issue a valid Certificate of Sponsorship to a skilled worker.
Skilled Worker visa eligibility requirements
Under the new Skilled Worker route, there are specific rules relating to what type of job offer will provide the necessary points, as well as what salary it must pay. This is in addition to various other validity, suitability and eligibility requirements.
Under Appendix Skilled Worker of the Immigration Rules, applicants will need to accrue 70 points to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa. To meet this threshold, applicants must be awarded 50 mandatory points and 20 ‘tradeable’ points. These comprise:
- 20 mandatory points: where the applicant has a genuine offer of a job, evidenced by a valid certificate of sponsorship issued by an approved UK sponsor.
- 20 mandatory points: where the job offer is at the required skill level of RQF3 or equivalent and above within an eligible occupation code, as set out under Appendix Skilled Occupations of the rules. Applicants will not necessarily need to hold a formal qualification, where points are awarded for the skill level of the job.
- 10 mandatory points: where the applicant can prove they speak English at level B1 (intermediate), as set out under Appendix English Language.
- 20 ‘tradeable’ points: where the job offer meets the applicable minimum salary threshold, ie; the higher of either the general salary threshold of £25,600 or the specific salary requirement for the applicant’s occupation, known as the ‘going rate’.
In cases where the job pays less than the minimum salary requirement, the applicant may trade specific characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary to accrue the remaining 20 points. This can be achieved, for example, where the applicant holds a PHD qualification relevant to the job or has a job offer in a specific shortage occupation.
Employers must also be seeking to fill a genuine vacancy which meets the skill and salary thresholds under the new route, where roles cannot be created solely to facilitate a migrant coming to the UK or an extension of their stay. Further, the mandatory requirements of a genuine job offer for a role at an appropriate skill level will not be ‘tradeable’.
For Tier 2 ICT workers, meeting the Skilled Worker eligibility requirements should be straightforward since the initial ICT visa application demanded a job role at RQF level 6, which is above the Skilled Worker minimum level of RQF level 3, and since ICT Long-term Staff have a minimum salary threshold above the new Skilled Worker level; £41,500 under the ICT compared with £25,600 or the relevant going rate for skilled worker roles.
English language requirement
The English Language requirement was not a criteria under the old Tier 2 (ICT) route, so when switching from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa it will not be possible for an applicant to show they have already met the required level of English in their previous successful visa application.
However, there are a number of other ways in which the English language requirement can be met. These include where the applicant has an academic degree taught in English or is a national of a majority English speaking country, or by passing a secure English language test from an approved provider.
There are more relaxed requirements for applicants who have been educated in a UK school while they were aged under 18, where they will only need to show they have an A level or GCSE in English. Further, for migrants who are being sponsored under the Skilled Worker route to work as a doctor, dentist, nurse or midwife, they will meet the English language requirement if they have passed an English Language assessment which is accepted by the relevant regulated professional body as a requirement for registration.
Does the maintenance requirement apply for switchers?
Where an applicant has been in the UK for less than 12 months on the date of their application to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa, they must satisfy a financial requirement.
This will require proof of funds of at least £1,270 held by the applicant for a 28-day period. Alternatively, their UK sponsor can certify that they will maintain and accommodate the applicant for at least that amount for the first month of their employment.
If the migrant worker is applying for permission to stay in the UK but has been working under a Tier 2 (ICT) visa for more than 12 months on the date of their application, they will automatically meet the financial requirement.
How to apply to switch from a Tier 2 ICT to Skilled Worker visa
When applying to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa, an applicant must apply online using the ‘Skilled Worker’ form. The applicant will need to provide a passport or other valid travel document to establish their identity and nationality, and pay the relevant fee and charges.
The applicant must also have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship by an approved UK sponsor no more than 3 months prior to the date of their application.
Is there a cooling off period before switching to a Skilled Worker visa?
Under the UK’s new points based system, migrant workers are permitted to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa without having to leave the UK to apply from overseas. Under the previous rules, Tier 2 (ICT) visa holders were generally unable to switch from inside the country into the Tier 2 (General) category, and were then subject to a 12 month cooling off period. This is no longer the case.
However, applicants will still have to meet the qualifying criteria under the Skilled Worker route, where being a Tier 2 (ICT) visa holder will not result in any relaxation of these rules.
When can you apply to switch to a Skilled Worker visa?
A migrant worker can apply to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa up to 3 months prior to the date they are due to start work with their new employer. The applicant must also ensure their application to switch is made prior to expiry of their existing ICT visa, otherwise they will be in breach of the Immigration Rules.
When applying from inside the UK a decision will usually be made within around 8 weeks. During this period, the applicant will risk having their application withdrawn if they travel outside of the UK before getting a decision.
How much will it cost to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa?
The fee for applying to switch from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa will depend on the type of job offer and the length of visa sought. The fees can be broken down as follows:
- Up to 3 years: £704
- Over 3 years: £1,408
- Shortage occupation up to 3 years: £464<
- Shortage occupation over 3 years: £928
The applicant will also be required to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The IHS is a charge paid by the applicant upfront for the duration of their stay, providing them with access to NHS services on broadly the same basis as British citizens.
The annual IHS rate is £624. For a migrant worker applying for a visa for 5 years, the total IHS payable will be £3,120. An applicant will still need to pay this charge even if they have private medical insurance. However, specific categories of worker may be exempt.
The migrant’s sponsor must also pay an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) when assigning a certificate of sponsorship, unless a specific exemption applies. The ISC is a charge paid by a UK employer for each skilled migrant worker they employ through the Skilled Worker route.
Employers must pay £1,000 per skilled worker for the first 12 months, with an additional £500 charge for each subsequent 6-month period, although discounted rates of £364 and £182 per sponsored worker will apply to small or charitable sponsors.
We are specialists in UK business immigration, with substantial experience and recognised expertise in advising employers and workers on UK employment sponsorship, sponsor licence applications and management, and Skilled Worker visa applications. For specialist immigration advice to support your talent mobility and business operations, contact us.
Tier 2 ICT to Skilled Worker Switching FAQs
Can Tier 2 ICT apply for Skilled Worker visa?
A Tier 2 (ICT) visa holder can apply for a Skilled Worker visa under the new rules provided they meet all of the requirements as set out under Appendix Skilled Worker. This includes the offer of a job in an eligible skilled occupation from a UK licensed sponsor that meets the applicable minimum salary threshold.
How much to switch from ICT to skilled worker?
The cost of switching from an ICT to Skilled Worker visa will depend on the type of job offer and the length of visa sought. If the job is within a shortage occupation, the fee is less than jobs in other categories. The standard fee is £704 for up to 3 years and £1,408 for over 3 years, reduced to £464 and £928 for a job falling within a shortage occupation.
Is Tier 2 ICT eligible for ILR?
A migrant worker who holds a Tier 2 (ICT) visa under the old rules will be permitted to switch into the new Skilled Worker route while still in the UK, subject to meeting the qualifying criteria. There is no longer any requirement to leave the UK to apply from overseas after a cooling off period.
Last updated: 30 December 2020